gay against you
Fair to Midi (interview by Euan L Davidson)
“Someone recently said that ‘we didn’t sound like a punk band anymore’ in a review. I’m ok with that.”
gay against you (all small case) are easily the most complex band I’ve written about in the year and a half I’ve been involved in music journalism. This is purely because, as anyone that’s listened to the electric duo know, this band sound like so many things that it’s almost impossible to pin them down to any genre, discern any major influences or interpret any of their lyrics as an extension of themselves, other than two fun human beings who like to make noisy music for the best house parties you’ll ever go to. In their own words, they “probably wouldn’t” describe themselves if someone asked them to, so how am I meant to, exactly?
Well, here’s an attempt: imagine a blank piece of paper, and an eager child with a set of new felt tip pens. The kid wants to use all these pens in a flurry of activity, drawing bizarre shapes, lines into lines, squares into circles, colours running together just to see what they look like clashed in a bizarre landscape of brightness and excitement. This is gay against you. Also, imagine if you will, an arcade, with lines of fruit machines, a pool room and various games, with looping tunes and theme songs in the most violent explosion you’ve ever heard (‘teleRAD’ from the last LP, ‘Muscle Milk’ made me imagine exactly this). This is also gay against you.
On the surface, with their bizarre artwork, hilarious song titles and P.E. outfits at live shows, you see a band taking the piss a bit, but beneath that there’s two talented songsmiths in Joe Howe and Lachlann Rattray. You may have heard of their other incarnations, be they Germlin/Ben Butler and Mousepad, or Yoko, Oh No!, Joe and Lachlann’s other projects respectively. Not to say that they don’t take gay against you seriously: they do. But it’s as if, for the pair, that GvsY is a Narnia-like retreat, within which they can explore alter egos: “We always had costumes and with that comes a different personality and a different way of behaving. Its fun making up the names for those two guys – ‘mr big softy’, ‘ice wolf’, ‘mountain jew’”, Joe explains.
The live circuit seems to be a more expansive playground for the duo. If you’ve ever seen gay against you live, be it on a Norwegian fjord (“awesome”, declares Joe) or at a sweaty live show, you’ll know that Joe and Lachlan don’t hide behind keyboards and laptops, often one, or both members will venture into the crowd, there’ll be organised sing-alongs, on-stage capers and an overriding craving for fun, that seems to be forgotten about by so many electronica acts. “Our show is pretty shambolic at the best of times”, explains Lachlann: “but I think that means that it can never really go wrong because there is no right.”
gay against you have released their latest record, ‘Righteous Signals/Sour Dudes’ on vinyl, with a CD release to follow on ADAADAT records. A GvsY album is generally a bit of an adventure, almost like a video game at times, a mix of a brightly coloured platform game and a horror – imagine Crash Bandicoot meeting Resident Evil. I say this because the pair mix simple, hummable melodies with shards of stabbing guitar or distorted synth, floating seamlessly between moods in schizophrenic bursts. The new record, however, is “consciously a lot less aggressive”, as there’s every chance that ‘Righteous Signals/Sour Dudes’ will act as a swansong for the pair as a musical double act. Or perhaps, it was simply a change of musical direction: “It’s not very cool to be intimidating and violent. I guess there were too many shows where the atmosphere could’ve very easily changed from ‘fun’ to ‘someone getting hurt’”.
The song writing process for the pair was something I was extremely interested in, as someone who was only used to song writing as an exercise with guitar riffs and trying to mime to the drummer what I wanted him to do. I really had very little idea how a band like gay against you operated: did the melodies come from a sonic, noisy atmosphere, or did the song begin with melodies, with layers of sound added progressively? “With this record, a lot of the songs were presented first as rough ideas, usually midi sequences and then fleshed out from there – Lach wrote all the best ones!” Joe declares.
A modest Lachlann: “Joe is too kind, I would write a 4 bars of midi and then Joe would take it away and overnight it would become some kind of grand opus! I like the idea that we would write the song then add the ‘crazy’ filter to finish it off but that’s really not the way it works for us, the songs tend to emerge the way they do because our musical interests are pretty disparate and we try to combine them all into every song.”
Although it sounds like gay against you are in a period of transition; growing up, if you will, don’t fear, fans of the duo’s high tempo, acerbic music should be safe in the knowledge that the new record is “still pretty frantic”. “There’s a lot of nervous energy there but I’d [Joe] like to think it’s a bit more focused”.
It’s difficult, almost impossible, to pinpoint exactly what inspires the duo. You could easily identify the kind of bands that appeal to them, the mention of Devo and Cardiacs are unsurprising, but it appears there’s more inspiring outlets that gay against you explore: “We used to have a thing where we said we were inspired by Radio 4, I guess this is still pretty true – documentaries, journalism are pretty inspiring to us”, Joe explains.
“We tend to take a really interesting idea we have heard or read and then joke about it until it becomes absurd.” Lachlann adds. “For example, we started writing ‘Victory Quix’ about Lawrence of Arabia then we realized we didn’t know the story so we added bits of the English Patient which we didn’t know either then added a bit about lost breakfast cereal, that’s about the extent of our lyric writing ability.”
My fondest memory of gay against you is a house party when I was still at school. A bunch of us were upstairs in a small room, several excitedly bought beers into the evening, the lights were off, I had a pen beard drawn on my face and we were all dancing to ‘gay unicorn’. It’s my fondest memory because really, that’s what gay against you are about: having fun, not caring about how you appear, getting the best out of people and testing the humourless, without ever relying on gimmicks or being irritating. Put simply, the world is a better place with gay against you in it, a breath of fresh air in a world of artists who take themselves far too seriously. Egos remain without inflation, but confidence still reigns in the band who ventured into touring and making records for exactly the right reasons: to have fun, and to make other people have fun too. Surely that’s what music’s about.
‘Righteous Signals’/’Sour Dudes’ will be out soon on Upset the Rhythm (vinyl) and ADAADAT (cd). A UK tour is forthcoming, details on myspace.com/gayagainstyou.